The last time Congress passed any significant law protecting a woman’s reproductive rights, Bill Clinton was President.
That was 1994, and in the interim, people who would colonize the U.S. womb –maybe make it the 51st state — have been busy. And people who disagree with that colonization have seemed strangely quiet. Some relief greets the news that Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others have introduced S. 1696, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013.
If the legislation passes the Senate, which has no shot of being called for a House vote while Speaker John Boehner holds sway, it is an acknowledgement (finally) that women have the right to decide their reproductive destiny, and closing health clinics restricts that right. It’s a start, though a very, very late one.
In fact, in the last two years alone, more than 70 abortion clinics have closed across the nation as (mostly) Republicans have led a concerted effort to restrict or deny a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. Legislators from some 30 states have embraced hundreds of different restrictions – from a 72-hour waiting period in South Dakota — to Texas, where the governor called a series of special legislative sessions so that elected officials there could help shutter a third of the state’s abortion clinics. Couple this with some draconian cuts to Texas’s family planning programs, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In fact, legislators across the land have moved to restrict access to abortions at record speed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights. States’ newly-embraced restrictions ran from banning abortion after six weeks (North Dakota) to requiring an abortion provider to have hospital privileges (North Dakota again, as well as Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin). The noble 11-hour filibuster in June by state Sen. (and now gubernatorial candidate) Wendy Davis was great for rallying the troops – and for selling those pink Mizuno Wave Rider sneakers she wore during all that speaking. But the bill passed, anyway. You can’t stop stupid, though you may forestall it a bit.
In some states, new legislation has narrowed the choices to just one clinic in the entire state – and that creates more than a little hardship, especially to patients in the larger states out west.
These restrictions are by no means nationwide. In Connecticut, Planned Parenthood alone lists 16 different centers that offer abortion services.
You could say that we’re safe here in Connecticut, but you’d be wrong. More than any other body of legislation, a woman’s right to choose is on the shakiest ground.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, legislators approved a law – which needs no governor’s signature – that would restrict a woman from using her private insurance for abortion services – even if the pregnancy was the result of a rape or incest. Women who think they may be raped – or victims of incest – can purchase a special insurance rider. Essentially, the law says that if you expect to be raped, you really should buy insurance.
None of this makes sense, legal or otherwise. A 1992 Supreme Court case involving Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania said that laws cannot place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion – nor can they “place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” Wouldn’t shuttering so many clinics qualify as an undue burden?
And seriously: Isn’t it about time for some pro-choice legislation?